The Afghan quagmire and Sino-Pak self-trapping
Main threat to Beijing is the possibility of Islamic terrorist groups entering Xinjiang via Tajikistan and Pakistan
The resurgence of the Taliban following the ongoing withdrawal of US troops has raised concerns about a civil war in Afghanistan that will have regional consequences. Pakistan and China are both disappointed with the “sudden” US withdrawal despite accusing Washington of being a “foreign power” in the region. The regional dynamic of the exit from the United States is immense. The historical animosity factors as well as the current conflict of interest leading to a security dilemma between various armed groups in Afghanistan will have disruptive consequences for all.
From an Afghan perspective, ethnic divisions are a major contributing factor in how the region would look in a few months. For example, the resumption of hostilities between the Hekmatyar and the other Taliban faction; The Shia Hazara ethnic groups and the Taliban, and the role of other groups such as Tajik minorities can create upheaval in Afghanistan.
Pakistan, meanwhile, aims to maintain its stronghold in the Afghan Taliban through the use of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Haqqani Network, Quetta Shura and other militant groups such as Lashkar etc. . The Chinese are concerned, issues range from the Xinjiang uprising and its $ 60 billion worth of investments in Pakistan, to Ayank’s copper mines in Afghanistan and other projects in Central Asia. For the Russians, the idea of its “strategic backyard” is well founded.
The fates of Pakistan and China are linked. A haunting fear in Pakistan is its disintegration. Islamabad is already facing issues such as disagreements between its army and the Baloch people over issues of employability in projects, the exploitation of innocent Baloch and other tribal girls by Chinese entrepreneurs and workers by luring them in false marriages, apart from the usual ethnic conflicts. The Baluchis who seek to establish a separate state all intend to support the Pashtun Taliban in countering the Pakistani military forces.
The Taliban have soldiers from various Islamic sects, but their leaders are predominantly Pashtuns who do not like the subordination of the Pashtuns by the Punjabis in Pakistan. The growing dissatisfaction between these two groups will have consequences on Pakistan’s north-western and southern borders. This despite the influence that Pakistan exerts through the TTP. Therefore, the Pashtuns organized themselves under the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM). The PTM and the Baloch movements should be reinvigorated by the active military support of the Afghan Pashtun Taliban to act against the interests of Pakistan.
Beijing’s mistake was to envision a “Chinese dream” on the shoulders of the American military presence in Afghanistan and elsewhere, which Donald Trump and Joe Biden understood well. Although announcing the withdrawal was a difficult decision, I still believe that it is a probable encirclement of China. It started in 2020 when the United States decided to leave Afghanistan and subsequently removed the East Turkestan Islamic Movement from the list of terrorist organizations. Through its economic investments and projects across Central Asia, it has so far been the main beneficiary of the US military presence in Afghanistan. Today, she suddenly finds herself running out of options if the Taliban takes over Afghanistan.
China’s strategic reluctance to engage Central Asian countries on difficult issues could weigh on its investments. The immediate challenge for Pakistan and China is which of the Taliban sects to support. The main threat to Beijing is the possibility of Islamic terrorist groups sneaking into Xinjiang via Tajikistan and Pakistan. After all, they have to be diverted somewhere so that Pakistani society is not destabilized.
In the event that China continues its military strategies in Central Asia, such as acquiring bases in Afghanistan, Russia may consider reducing its engagement with Beijing. After all, it is Russia’s strategic backyard. It is for the same reason that despite the fact that India was a “powerful ally” of the Soviet Union in the past and had no historic border problem, the Army of the Indian Air has been denied the rights to base Ayni and Fakhror air bases in Tajikistan due to a strong Russian influence. Will Russia then accept China’s military presence? The best China can hope for is to gain a foundation through its debt trap policy by attracting the Taliban; but their security would also depend on the goodwill gestures of the Taliban and other terrorist organizations, on which Beijing can certainly never rely.
The problems for Pakistan and China do not end there. Although Pakistan played a role in bringing the United States and the Taliban to the discussion table, it refused to welcome the United States military. He had already betrayed Washington by extracting billions of dollars in military and financial aid while simultaneously hiding Osama bin Laden. The existing strategic cooperation between the West and Pakistan appears to be eroding rapidly. The sword of the FATF continues to haunt Islamabad. It is highly likely that fundamentalist factors in Pakistan will gain considerably and the country could slide further into a failed state. In the event that Pakistan is blacklisted by the FATF and isolated, is China prepared to financially shoulder the burden of feeding the Pakistani people and providing for their daily needs? And if so, for how long would it continue to “exceed” its commitments? While China could exercise controls and impose conditions for its continued economic aid, such as unimpeded local access to its plans, which include security from violent attacks, Pakistan will surely face the heat in the event. where it would fail to provide meaningful security to China.
China faces another major problem internationally. With US-China relations already in decline, the decision to transform Pacific Command into US Indo-Pacific Command (INDOPACOM) raised its security dilemma. In the coming days, if Quad is institutionalized, we will see more joint patrols of crucial SLOCs in the Indian Ocean and Pacific Ocean to ensure the safety of shipping routes as well as fiber-optic submarine cables which are very important. crucial for savings. from Africa, Asia and Europe. After being surrounded on multiple fronts, his aggressive posture might increase due to which he might make some bad decisions.
There is regional anxiety as the United States prepares to come out and a few questions ensue. For example, will international organizations and nation states diplomatically recognize the Taliban? In which area of international law – whether public or private – do agreements with terrorist organizations fall? If the Taliban fail to gain international recognition, then is China prepared to stake billions of its currency on the sole basis of verbal or written assurances from the Taliban and jeopardize both its investments and his population ? Will China’s “debt trap” policy work with the Taliban? The answers to these questions are not easy to find because they do not even exist in the field of international law.
In the coming months, the world could witness a bloodbath in Afghanistan and neighboring countries and it is better to leave time to the way the “game” evolves. But in due course, Pakistan and China could likely find themselves in a maze of their own, and the directions of future engagements for countries like India, the United States and Russia would be clearer.
(The author is an assistant professor at the Central University of the Punjab, Bathinda. The opinions expressed are personal.)